The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 79th World Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, 9th to 12th September 2013
During 2013, the authorities in the Russian Federation continued their attempts to stifle free expression by adding two further pieces of draconian legislation to the books.
In June 2013, the so-called “gay-propaganda” law was passed, prohibiting the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships among minors”. Any activity that can be construed as promoting the non-heterosexual lifestyle, including the holding of LGBT rallies, or the “promotion of denial of traditional family values among minors”, is now banned. The new law creates a series of administrative penalties in the form of fines, suspensions for legal entities, and deportations for foreign nationals.
Also in June 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed into law the so-called “blasphemy law”, which criminalizes “religious insult”, with punishments of up to three years’ imprisonment or a maximum fine of 500,000 RUB. The bill was proposed in September 2012, in what PEN considers a heavy-handed attempt to deter stunts similar to the one carried out by the feminist punk group Pussy Riot, who performed their “punk prayer” inside the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in February 2012.
These two new pieces of legislation are a continuation of Russia’s regressive approach to free expression and were passed in the same repressive spirit as July 2012’s re-criminalisation of defamation.
The emblematic Russian cases continue to be Pussy Riot’s Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who were sentenced to two years in prison in October 2012 and sent to labour colonies. They were convicted in August 2012 of “hooliganism on the grounds of religious hatred” after performing a punk protest in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral, where they mimed to lyrics that criticised the relationship between President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Orthodox Church. Both women claimed to have suffered sleep deprivation whilst in pre-trial detention; Alekhina says that she has been threatened by other prisoners. Their appeals against their convictions have been denied. PEN believes that they are being punished on politically-motivated grounds for practising their right to free expression.
• Demands that the Pussy Riot members Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova be immediately released, and that their convictions be quashed;
• Urges that the trio of anti-free expression laws – the re-criminalisation of defamation, the ban on the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”, and the “religious insult law” – be repealed;
• Calls on the authorities of the Russian Federation to fully comply with their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect freedom of opinion and expression.